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Thoughts, musings, odds and ends.


❖ Readers of this publication know that The Lamp offers something markedly different from any other Catholic magazine in the English-speaking world. It’s not just that we reject both the libertarian right and the antinomian left: we like to think that all sane people are beginning to do so, albeit inchoately; it is that we approach the questions of modern life as if what the Church teaches were actually true. (A crazy idea, we know!) The project we have undertaken, one in which we hope our readers will share, is very simply described: stripping away all of our merely secular prejudices and trying to think with the mind of the Church.

So far we have found that a good place to begin is with the words of Pope Francis. Without his social encyclicals—especially Laudato si’—it is unlikely that this magazine would exist. When the Holy Father has something to say about refugees or the environment or the pitfalls of social media or the pleasures of reading Dante, we believe Catholics should not only listen but meditate upon his words. This is not because we have an exaggerated understanding of papal authority—the selective ultramontanism of Catholics during the last three pontificates should be dispiriting to all of us—but precisely because we have the correct one. At least since the pontificate of Leo XIII, who inaugurated modern Catholic social teaching with Rerum novarum, well-formed Catholics have never erred in looking to the popes for guidance on the burning questions of the age: in the interwar era, for example, when they showed the world a third way between the chaos of laissez-faire and the totalitarianisms that emerged as a response to the former.

All of which is to say that we do not ignore the pope or explain away his words when he says hard things. Nor is this a magazine in which readers will ever encounter the sort of shrill anti-papal ranting that has become a fixture of so many Catholic publications during the last eight years. But on the subject of the recent motu proprio we cannot pretend to a studied neutrality.

This was an ill-advised disciplinary move. As always we choose our words carefully: we say “ill-advised” because it is clear from even the most cursory reading of the document that the pope received bad advice from people whose good faith can reasonably be doubted. Which is why we believe that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has a duty to speak. The new legislation interprets Summorum pontificum in a way that seems to be at odds with that document’s plain meaning, to say nothing of Benedict’s subsequent comments (see especially the interview with Peter Seewald published at his Last Testament). If he really did liberalize the Old Rite simply as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X, he should say so; if he did not, we believe that a churchman in his position should be afforded the right to correct this error. Either way, whatever the foreseeable costs (greatly exaggerated by those who are most likely to cheer on the heretics and schismatics in Germany) to the Church’s unity, the living former pope must directly address what his successor has written about what is almost certainly the defining feature of the previous pontificate.

In the meantime, we have been heartened by what seems to be the response of much of the episcopate in this country—namely, bafflement at the notion that after a year of shuttered churches, amid an ongoing crisis in vocations to the priesthood and women’s religious life, discouraging an interest in older liturgical books which matter a great deal to many thousands of young Catholics should number among their priorities. We suspect that the vast majority would have preferred that the new legislation had never been promulgated and that they had been spared the tedious work of imposing restrictions upon their devout clergy and the fastest growing segment of the faithful.

For our part, we cannot envision a future in which the traditional Mass is no longer a part of the life of the Church, as Traditionis custodes seems to envision; we cannot imagine one in which it is relegated to the margins, to American Legion Halls at four o’clock on Sunday afternoons and basements as it was between 1970 and 2007. This does not mean that we are going to allow ourselves to be conscripted into the so-called “liturgy wars” (a phrase we dislike) or that we no longer care what the Holy Father has to say. Instead we intend to do what we have done since our first issue: bringing Catholic social teaching to bear upon the questions of modern life, and doing so with filial piety in addition to urbanity, good humor, and a tough reasonableness.

❖  Robert Payne is not a name to conjure with on these shores or any other. But half a century ago this jobbing man of letters was the author of numerous highly regarded bestsellers. Payne wrote in many genres, but it is as a biographer and popular historian that he deserves to be remembered. While many of his books are still worth reading—the biographies of Leonardo, Ivan the Terrible, Lenin, and Gandhi; The Triumph of the Greeks, The Dream and the Tomb, Forever China, The Wanton Nymph—he was at his best writing on ecclesiastical history. Here is a passage from The Fathers of the Western Church, which was, astonishingly, a selection of the Book of the Month Club:

As we see them now, through dark mists, they are larger than life, superbly assured of themselves as they thunder against the barbarians or set in order the conflicting loves of men. These patriarchs who thought nothing of writing a hundred books in the intervals of violent action belong to a race that has apparently passed: there were giants in those days. The greatest of them lived at a time of utter despair, when the Roman Empire was crumbling and there seemed no hope at all that civilization would survive the nihilism of the barbarians who slaughtered as they pleased for no discernible reason except the lust for conquest. The conquests of the Church Fathers were, however, more permanent. They conquered men’s minds with their comprehension of God and with their knowledge of men, their faith in God, and their faith in man. In those days men ranked higher than the angels, and through all the works of the Fathers there breathes a singular respect for the divinity within man. As we see the Fathers in the Italian paintings of the Renaissance, we see their dignity, their immeasurable wisdom, their solemnity even, but their stature is absent. Against a Tuscan sunset Jerome with his lion or Francis amid his circling larks looks almost human, almost ordinary. El Greco painted them better, with the smoke and the mist and the air quivering from the lightning-stroke, in darkness and battering thunder. In such a landscape, they looked what they were, heroes who drew strength from danger.

It is difficult to imagine anything so well written even being published in the United States today. Anyone with Payne’s ear would be dismissed in highbrow circles as a non-specialist; a writer aspiring to his popular appeal would be asked to dumb it down (or, more likely, he would not require it because he would be the host of a television news program or a podcast).

❖ In our last issue, we gave the wrong deadline for our Christmas ghost story competition. Entries must be submitted not by October 1 but, fittingly, by October 31. We have been encouraged by both the quantity and the quality of the stories we have received thus far and look forward to reviewing more submissions next month.

❖ Some years ago there was a famous sports website best known for what its authors had to say (never very interesting, always in what Nabokov called “schoolboy words of four letters”) about politics. Someone recently suggested that The Lamp should have a podcast devoted almost entirely to sports. We must confess to having grave doubts about the podcast medium (whatever happened to local morning radio “coffee crew” shows, we wonder?), but if enough readers are interested in hearing a group of family men and perhaps one priest talk about sports and Catholic life while mostly ignoring the comparatively lofty subjects to which this journal is dedicated, let us know and we will make it happen.

Either way, on to America’s real national pastime!

❖ Everything wrong in the life of the Church can be summed up by phrases like “active in mission.” What mission? Why is there no definite article? What does it mean and why do so many Church documents read this way?

❖ Speaking of absurdities: the recently announced Synod on Synodality sounds like something Michael Wharton of blessed memory might have invented in one of his more inspired pieces of clerical satire. We apologize if saying this is at odds with living mission.

❖ We hate to break with wholesome traditions, even those that have been more or less recently inaugurated. Thus, we resume our recurring bedtime story feature with “The Frogs Who Wished For a King,” from Aesop:

The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

“How now!” cried Jupiter. “Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes.”

❖ We would like to remind all of our readers that seminarians and those living in vowed religious poverty are eligible to receive complimentary subscriptions. If you or someone you know falls into one of these two categories and would like to receive the magazine, please let us know at Many thanks to those of you who subscribe at the more expensive “Solidarity” rate for making it possible for us to offer gratis subscriptions—when you sign up for the extra sixty dollars, you are quite literally buying a second subscription for a worthy person who cannot afford one.

❖ While we are on the subject of our free copies, we should add that we are always looking to grow our readership on college campuses as well. If you are a student looking to spread the word, shoot us an email at the address mentioned above. Maybe we can send you a box of issues.

❖ This summer was a busy one for the volunteer staff here at the magazine. Our editor’s wife gave birth to their fourth child at the end of May; one of their other daughters broke her hip and their son hit his head climbing out of a swimming pool; three sizeable trees fell in their backyard; Miguel Cabrera hit his five-hundredth home run. Without the help of our four summer editorial interns, it would have been too much. Thank you Daniel, Sophie, Petr, and Bea!

❖ We should apologize for filling up the section with so much housekeeping material. By way of recompense, we present a sequel to the quiz from issue one. Here are ten of what we are told are the best popular album releases of the year so far and ten records we made up. See whether you can tell the difference:

girl in red, if i could make it go quiet

Soup Soon, Vitriol

Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales

katakata, Don’t push this button

Origami Angel, Gami Gang

The Shouty Can For the Killers, Cringle Fryes

Home Is Where, I Became Birds

Kawaii Lemonade, Taking the bacon where we found it

H.J. yogi, Missed the Boat

Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg

500dust, Even S

Abs-Carnivalesque, Class Act

Katy Kirby, Cool Dry Place

dodie, Build a Problem

Wallace Solace, Dat Betrayal Face

Audrey Nuna, a liquid breakfast

Henryormous, Hold The Phone Crocodile Tears: Vol 1

yaz the tiger, So

Autumn King, Letters From Vaughn of the Wolves

Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee

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